Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Demons, ITV

Happy new year, oompah-pilgrims!

I'm going to be up to my elbows in the gore of the Degree Show for the next fortnight, but thought I'd better get back on the blogging bike and get something down about Demons.

After the recent arrival of Apparitions on the other side, I was really looking forward to the show. The set-up is a fairly straightforward initiation plot. Luke Rutherford (Christian Cooke) learns from his cool American godfather Rupert Galvin (Philip Glenister) that he's the last of the Van Helsing family of monster slayers.

As a result, he has to join Rupert and their blind associate Mina Harker (Zoe Tapper) and become a warrior in the eternal war between humanity and the 'half-live' – apparently malevolent supernatural beings who live on the periphery of human perception.

This all sounds interesting enough, especially to a fan of the genre, but we never really find out what's so very bad about the half-live, other than their slightly gruesome appearance and unappealing table manners.

Maybe that would be an interesting way of tinkering with theme and generic conventions; instead of assuming that the half-live are vermin that need to be eradicated, we could be led to the realisation that Team Van Helsing are actually genocidal persecutors of the 'freaks', who might just want to be left alone.

As nasty as the half-live look, I think we need a bit more of an overall threat to make the stakes apparent. The main villain of the opener is Gladiolus Thripp, played with gleeful extravagance by Mackenzie Crook. But again, he doesn't give off a real sense of danger and he is fairly easily disposed of at the end. And haven't we done contrived quasi-Victorian names by now?

I enjoyed it, but not in the way – or as much – I hoped I would. I was hoping it'd be a bit darker and Lovecraftian, even given its scheduling, but the focus on the disruption of Luke's normal teenage life skews it much younger; Buffy still casts a long shadow, and Demons will do well to get out of it.

Much has been made of Philip Glenister's dubious American accent, but his emphatic presence is what holds the programme down and stops it being too lightweight. He gives off an air of pained experience from many years of gazing into the abyss, and while Luke's initiation is the focus, you can't help thinking that Rupert's going to be the real star of the show. But that's Philip Glenister for you.

Still, the theme of strangeness lurking just beneath the surface of everyday life is a compelling one – it drove my MA major project, The Last of the Reality Police – and Demons has a strong-enough sense of place to provide a spicy blend of the familiar and the macabre. It just needs one good really scary episode to get the engine running.

In other news... I saw Slumdog Millionaire at the BFI t'other neet, followed by a quick Q&A with Danny Boyle. The film was great – I'll try and get summat down about it in the next couple of days.

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